[MLS WEEK 28: What we learned ... ] Vital wins by Eastern teams marked the 28th week of MLS play, with Houston taking over the conference lead, New York winning without suspended Rafael Marquez and a spectacular game by Dwayne De Rosario pushing D.C. United up the wild-card race. In the West, Seattle and RSL remained on course for a classic playoff matchup.
NO RAFA, NO PROBLEMA. Lacking the suspended Rafael Marquez and trailing visitor Portland by one point in the overall standings, the New York Red Bulls responded with a gutty, glorious 2-0 victory over the Timbers at Red Bull Arena.
Though the Timbers had flown across three time zones in the aftermath of a disappointing 1-1 tie with San Jose Wednesday at Jeld-Wen Field, they attacked from the start and pressured the New York goal several times without scoring. But rather than crumble and concede a goal, which they have done 41 times this year, the Red Bulls – anchored by Tim Ream and Stephen Keel at centerback and Teemu Tainio as holding midfielder – held firm until Dane Richards wriggled free on the left side and poked a shot inside the far post from a very acute angle.
The Red Bulls got a few breaks in the second half. On a bang-bang sequence, the Timbers hit the crossbar and the post and midday though the period a close handball call yielded a penalty kick that Luke Rodgers converted to clinch the win.
Inspired by a rowdy, sellout crowd of 25,008 fans, the Red Bulls closed out a victory they absolutely had to have. It moved them into the final playoff spot, 10th in overall points.
New York has gone almost five months without a win when Marquez was in the lineup. He has apologized for critical comments about his teammates that drew a one-game suspension from the team, and watched the Timbers’ game from a private box.
Will head coach Hans Backe reinstate him for the next game, at Toronto Saturday, and/or a rescheduled showdown with the Galaxy a week from Tuesday? Stay tuned.
EASTERN LOGJAM. Wins by Houston and D.C. United, following a 1-1 tie between Sporting Kansas City and Philadelphia on Friday, coupled with a 1-0 Crew loss to the Galaxy left six Eastern Conference teams separated by four points with a month of matches to go.
Houston’s 1-0 win in Dallas left it atop the heap at 42 points. SKC lead took a 1-0 lead at home against Philly but conceded an equalizer; with that point, it stayed tied with Columbus at 41. Philly’s 40 points is closely followed by New York (39), and D.C. United (38). The Western wild-card teams, FC Dallas (46) and Colorado (42), still lead their Eastern counterparts, but the gap is narrowing.
On Sunday, Chicago stayed in the hunt by beating New England, 3-2, though the Fire is still well back at 33 points.
DE RO IS FOR REAL. A few days after flopping under minimal contact and winning a penalty kick he failed to convert against Chivas USA, Dwayne De Rosario personally dismantled Real Salt Lake with a hat trick plus an assist in a 4-1 rout.
De Ro played a diagonal ball that Andy Najar rifled into the net for the first goal, then headed in the second from Najar’s cross after starting the play himself in midfield and racing forward into the penalty area. He scored again with a first-time shot from more 25 yards out, and capped off an incredible night with a swerving 35-yard free kick into the top corner.
The outburst moved him into the goalscoring lead with 13 goals and his 11 assists is one of the top figures in that category. In 13 games since joining D.C. from New York June 27, he’s scored 10 goals and registered six assists, and taken a place among the top contenders for league MVP honors. If the flop may have cost him a few votes, his amazing display at RFK generated many more.
WESTERN RUNNER-UPS. As FC Dallas has fallen out of a guaranteed playoff position in the Western Conference, RSL has utilized its games in hand to take over one of the slots behind runaway leader Los Angeles.
Neither RSL nor Seattle will likely catch the Galaxy, and if the standings remain the same those two teams will be paired together in the two-game conference semifinals. The No. 2 finisher will hold the home-field advantage, which may or may not prove to be a decisive factor, as the teams have shown in their two regular-season meetings.
On May 28, Seattle beat RSL, 2-1, at Rio Tinto Stadium, and two weeks ago, RSL returned the favor by the same score at CenturyLink Field. They went into the weekend tied for second place with 51 points and also tied on the head-to-head tiebreaker.
On Saturday, RSL rested nine players who had started against New York on Wednesday, and its 4-1 beating by D.C. United at RFK Stadium snapped its five-game winning streak. Unlike the Sounders, RSL isn’t competing in the Concacaf Champions League; yet with a home league match against Chicago scheduled for Wednesday, Kreis sat down regulars Jamison Olave, Robbie Russell, Andy Williams and Fabian Espindola. Alvaro Saborio came off the bench to score his 10th goal of the season in the final minutes.
Seattle fielded most of its first-team players for a Cascadia Cup match at Vancouver, and after falling behind early, the Sounders roared back to beat the Whitecaps, 3-1, and regain second place as Fredy Montero scored his eighth and ninth goals of the season. The grind doesn’t stop; starting Tuesday, Seattle plays four games in 12 days: a CCL game in Guatemala against Comunicaciones Tuesday; a league game at New England Saturday; the Open Cup final against Chicago at home a week from Tuesday, and another home game with Philly the Saturday after that
How often Schmid decides to use his key players, like Montero, in the absence of Mauro Rosales (sprained MCL) will determine how strong are the Sounders when the playoffs start.